Rubber plays an important role as a versatile industrial raw material with a lot of applications in a man’s everyday life. Being a major raw material used in manufacturing tyre that has overtime satisfied man’s need for speed, natural rubber has become almost indispensable for all in today’s world. It’s found everywhere around us- in shoes, in sporting goods, bikes and so much more. Africa accounts for around 5 percent of global natural rubber production. This may seem dismal but has a lot of input in the countries its production manifests- Nigeria, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Benin. The global scenario for rubber is very encouraging with projections of increasing demand. Attention is turning to the western side of Africa as a source of production growth. This could revive it from the shadows of palm oil in terms of sustainable development issues.
However, behind the glorified commercial significance of the present, rubber harvesting could have a horrid tale to tell. A tale of how cultivating it without factoring in sustainability might lead to the deaths of our forests and ultimately us. A story covered by Al-Jazeera in January 2019, narrated the tale of how a Chinese owned company was given the go-ahead to harvest thousands of hectares in Cameroon rainforests for rubber, and this had effects not only to the local community but to the environment as well.
The immediate harm caused by the rubber industry is serious- but the biggest impacts might not be felt for years to come, because deforestation is a major factor in climate change. At the moment when drastic measures are needed within the next decade to prevent the worst effects of climate change, many companies are stepping up to make a difference- by integrating sustainability in their strategies, but rubber is an often- overlooked part of the problem. We must commit to ending the deforestation caused by rubber harvesting.
Deforestation for rubber is a silent problem that is growing in Africa and other parts of the world that produce rubber, and its accelerating. Their areas are biodiversity hotspots, and the inhabitants of numerous endangered species, including elephants, are rapidly disappearing. This is hitting the tourism sector hard and in turn, affecting the economy of the countries as tourism is a key player due to the revenues it salvages.
The rubber industry is destroying more than just forests. Exploitative harvesting is wrecking communities in the western part of Africa, throwing families off the land where they lived for generations to make way for rubber farms. Their livelihoods have been affected and poverty continues to be a persistent headache to these communities.
However, all is not lost. With an increasing awareness of the importance of sustainability in products, some companies are turning to ethical rubber. In 2016, Toyota decided to commit to sustainability through a partnership with World Wildlife Fund by donating cash that ensures that rubber and product such as palm oil are sourced sustainably to avoid deforestation. Sustainable rubber not only paves way for protecting the planet but the communities as well.
The survey indicates that 66 percent of the general public and 73 percent of millennials will spend more if the product is produced more sustainably. The parties involved and those that push the rubber harvesting agenda should seek to go the ethical way for a win-win situation. This will help reduce environmental devastation on a massive scale.